Friday, May 29, 2009

Some questions for today's Atlantic Yards oversight hearing

Here's a round-up of some questions that might be addressed at the State Senate oversight hearing today, notably by representatives of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). Most but not all have appeared previously on this blog.

(Forest City Ratner seems unlikely to testify, but State Senator Bill Perkins, contradicting a statement by the developer's rep to Daily News columnist Errol Louis, said FCR was invited. The hearing at Pratt Institute is supposed to start at 1 pm, but it's always good to get there early.) 

Costs and timetable

Why is the cost of the project and arena a secret? And why did Bruce Ratner disclose the cost to the Times? Where's the new timetable and budget? How long would the arena take to build? Could it really open in 2011?

Why did the State Funding Agreement provide no timetable for Phase 2? Why did the City Funding Agreement impose no penalties for a Phase 1 some 44% smaller than approved?

Does the ESDC really believe the project could be completed in the announced ten-year timeframe? Would groundbreaking be this year or next year? Was the ESDC candid or deceptive about the timetable to the IRS?

Is there an interim plan for the site, should nothing get built over most of it?

Will a new Modified General Project Plan be issued and when? If so, when would a public hearing be held? Would changes in the project timetable necessitate a revision of the environmental impact statement? Would they necessitate a new vote by the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB)? 

Analysis of benefits?

What is the financial accountability for the project? How are the government agencies considering renegotiating the deal? Is there any new analysis of expected benefits? Will there ever be a cost-benefit analysis?

What does the Independent Budget Office (IBO)  think, given that tax revenues from the arena are surely reduced from 2005, when the arena cost-benefit analysis showed a break-even proposition? (The IBO, which did not attempt a cost-benefit analysis for the project as a whole, will testify at the hearing.)

The architect's role

Is Frank Gehry still on the project? What's Ellerbe Becket's role? How does Gehry's diminished role affect naming rights and expected revenue?

Is Laurie Olin still on the project? Is another landscape architect?

The MTA and the railyard

Will Forest City Ratner pay the MTA the promised $100 million once the ESDC begins to pursue eminent domain? Will the MTA be willing to compromise with Forest City's request to amend the agreement and pay only $20 million up front?

If Forest City Ratner does not create the upgraded railyard it intended, would that be violating the General Project Plan?

Who's in charge?

What did Chuck Ratner, CEO of parent Forest City Enterprises, mean when he said two years ago --before the economic downturn--that "we still need more" subsidies? Was he talking about the city, the state, or the MTA--or all three?

Did the ESDC do any independent evaluation of Forest City Ratner's claim that it had stalled work because of litigation?

Why did the ESDC let the city Department of Transportation make a deal regarding reconstruction of the Carlton Avenue Bridge at a different timetable than announced?


What exactly does volunteer Susan Rahm do on the project?

Did the promised utility work on Pacific Street ever occur? Why did the utility work schedule change? Why is Forest City Ratner in complete charge of Construction Updates?

Should the ESDC have created a more honest property ownership map? Will all properties be taken by eminent domain at the same time? Including Site 5?

Affordable housing

Was there ever enough bond capacity to support the promised AY affordable housing over ten years? 

What's the minimum the developer could build? Why is ACORN muzzled?

Questions of blight

Should minor cracks in the sidewalk be considered blight? What about lots to 60 percent or less of their allowable Floor Area Ratio (FAR) under current zoning?

Was the fabric of the community "shot to hell"

Has the developer exacerbated blight via demolitions?

Project rationale

Can anyone at the ESDC claim, as did the agency's consultant AKRF in the environmental impact statement:
The project site is not anticipated to experience substantial change in the future without the proposed project by 2016 due to the existence of the open rail yard and the low-density industrial zoning regulations.

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